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11-08-2015, 17:40

Georges Clemenceau (1841-1929)

Georges Clemenceau was the premier (prime minister) in the French government during the final twelve months of World War I. He stands as his country's most significant political leader during the hosfiliUes, and he played an important role at the ensuing Versailles peace conference. In the first three years of the war, Clemenceau seized the opportunity to become the most vocal critic of France's leadership, both political and military. Once in office, he energized the war effort and committed his country to remaining in the conflict until victory. At the peace negotiations, he promoted the insertion of provisions into the Treaty of Versailles designed to prevent the revival of a powerful Germany. Clemenceau was bom on September 28, 1841, in Mouilleron-en-Pared, a small village in the Vendee region. He was the son of a prosperous landowner and physician. Educated as a physician himself, he entered politics during the Franco-Prussian War. His career in the French parliament began in 1 876. Thereafter, Clemenceau was a prominent figure in French public life during the four decades prior to World War I. He rose to cabinet rank (as minister of the interior) in 1906, and he then served as premier from 1906 to 1909. A ferocious debater and an influential writer, Clemenceau was also a feared duelist. "The Tiger," as he was commonly known, promoted building up French military strength in the prewar period, advancing his views both as a member of the Senate and also as editor of his own newspaper, L'Homme libre. The aged political leader (he was nearly seventy-three when hostilities began) rejected a minor post in Rene Viviani's wartime government. He openly declared that he would serve only as premier or as France's minister of war. He used his position as a member of the Senate to castigate both the military high command and France's succession of weak governments from 1914 to late 1917. Secret sessions of the parliament devoted to the conduct of the war gave him a prominent stage from which to launch his views. Clemenceau began his criticism of the war effort by attacking the inadequacy of the military's medical services. He had been appalled to see wounded men from the war's first battles left untreated on a railroad train. He went on to deplore the terrible cost of General Joseph Joffre's offensives in Artois and Champagne, as well as the shift of troops from the western front to Salonika in 1915. He was equally vocal in attacking Joffre's high command for conducting the war without accepting effective government supervision. The military often refused, for example, to permit parliamentarians even to visit the front. Withal, Clemenceau did not offer any substantial alternatives to the general way in which the war was being managed. Clemenceau's rise to power came in the grim circ'umstances of 1917. Russia's withdrawal from the war following the March Revolution threatened to end the entire conflict on the eastern front. Thus, by the winter of 1917-1918, Germany was gathering its forces for a climactic offensive in the west. The radical turn in Russian politics pushed French Socialists to end their support for their country's wartime government. Added to these woes was General Robert Nivelle's calamitous spring offensive, which sparked a mutiny throughout much of the French army. Meanwhile, Minis ter of the Interior Louis Malvy and other figures in the government were promoting a defeatist stand toward the war effort. Clemenceau, who led the government starting on November 6, 1917, took firm control over this perilous scene. He immediately declared his policy in simple and direct terms: "I wage war." And he set out to keep France fighting, regardless of the cost, until the enemy finally collapsed. Clemenceau appointed a cabinet of talented and energetic technicians such as Louis Loucheur, the minister of munitions. The post of minister of war he kept for himself. As the dominant figure in the government, Clemenceau ended squabbling in the cabinet, brought the military high command under firm control, and kept labor unrest at manageable levels. Clemenceau understood that the French population, which had suffered immensely since 1914, was willing to fight on. Thus, his indictment of figures like Malvy, his suppression of pacifist propaganda, and his support for fighting generals like Ferdinand Foch won popular approval. The Socialist party, which had now abandoned the wartime coalition, failed decisively when it tried to overthrow Clemenceau. He won votes of confidence from the Chamber of Deputies by overwhelming margins. The fiery French leader backed the appointment ofGeneral Ferdinand Foch as supreme Allied commander when the German spring offensive threatened to drive a wedge between the French and British armies. In June, as the final thrust in Ludendorff's series of offensives brought the Germans perilously close to Paris, Clemenceau confinued to support Foch. He found his judgment confirmed by the successful Allied counterattack against the Mame salient in July. Thereafter, Clemenceau left the military conduct of the war to the generals unfil the Armistice was signed. Although seriously ill, he visited the front regularly; often he placed himself close to the fighting. Among the national leaders at the peace conference, Clemenceau emerged as the foremost advocate of imposing a harsh settlement on Germany. He rejected the extreme demands set forth by Foch, such as severing the entire Rhineland from Germany. But the French premier won important concessions from President Woodrow Wilson and Prime Minister David Lloyd George designed to maintain German weakness. These included placing a huge reparations burden on the defeated enemy, Hmiting the size of Germany's armed forces, and establishing a long-term Allied occupation of the Rhineland. Clemenceau did not live to see Germany shake off the restricdons he had placed on his country's historic enemy. He retired from public life in 1920 and died in Paris on November 24, 1929.